Ulissi leads crop of talented youngsters in Italian cycling

He's joined by a number of other speedsters, including Moreno Moser and Fabio Aru

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MADRID (VN) — Lost between stories about Lance Armstrong juicing his own blood in front of rocker-girlfriend Sheryl Crow, and news that Bjarne Riis confirms that he has more lives than a cat, a pair of very choice victories unfolded over the past few days without almost anyone noticing.

Not, at least, if you’re Italian.

On October 2, Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) blasted to victory in the Italian semi-classic Milano-Torino. And he backed that up with a win in Coppa Sabatini on Thursday, giving him five victories on the 2013 season.

From afar, the wins might appear as a minor blip at the end of a wild and exciting road season that’s fast winding down.

For the Italians, however, the victories represent something much bigger. The 24-year-old Ulissi is one of the new riders coming up through the ranks in Italy.

“Overall, it was a good season for me. Five wins is not bad,” Ulissi said Thursday. “Next year, I will focus on the one-day races. I dream of winning a monument. The Ardennes are good for me, and the team will be supporting me.”

Ulissi’s two wins inside a week confirm a growing buzz inside Italy about a small but potent group of emerging young talent.

For a country that produced the likes of Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, Marco Pantani, and Mario Cipollini, any rider that wins these days is big news.

Much like Spain, Italian cycling has been suffering from an economic downturn that has taken its toll on teams and races. Unlike Spain, which has a dearth of young talent coming up behind today’s established stars, there are several young riders on the cusp of major success.

Ulissi is right there. A winner of two world championship gold medals as a junior, he turned pro in 2010 and quickly won a stage in the 2011 Giro d’Italia.

“I am not sure what kind of rider I can become,” Ulissi told VeloNews earlier this season. “I think I like the Ardennes classics, but the grand tours are also fascinating. I am still young. I would like to experiment for a season or two to see what I like doing.”

Italy is starved for a new Pantani or Cipollini, a winner with the charisma to energize the sport.

Established stars such as Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) are in the twilight of their careers.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is Italy’s top rider right now, but the “Shark of Messina” lacks some of the off-the-bike flair and personality that the Italian media soaks up.

Behind Nibali comes a promising crop of Italians who should keep headline writers and fans happy for the coming years.

On the sprint side, there is Elia Viviani (Cannondale), 24, and Sacha Modolo, 26, the latter who is set to join Ulissi next year at Lampre. Neither seems to be a reincarnation of the Lion King, but both are at least in the fray, picking up a few wins each season.

One rider who is perhaps destined to lead the new generation of Italians is 22-year-old Moreno Moser (Cannondale).

With a name like Moser, he was born into the pantheon of gods purely on namesake, with uncle Francesco Moser leading an active cycling dynasty. But of the many brothers and cousins with the last name Moser who have tried to make it in the pro ranks, Moreno stands out. A pro since 2012, perhaps no rider since Nibali has engendered such enthusiasm.

“Just with his name, he is already a big star in Italy,” a reporter said from La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He is a classy rider. He has a big personality. He will win a lot of races.”

In his first two pro seasons, Moser has provided a few glimpses of what Italian insiders say is all but a certain superstar status. In his rookie season, he won the Tour of Poland and the Trofeo Laigueglia.

This season, he won Strade Bianche and made his grand tour debut at the Tour de France, where he attacked to third in the double-climb stage up l’Alpe d’Huez.

“I want people to know me for my name, not my family name,” Moser told VeloNews during the Tour. “It was better for me to race the Tour to try my first grand tour, because if I had gone to the Giro, everyone would expect to me win.”

A bit further off the radar is the one rider who gets veteran sport director Giuseppe Martinelli excited: Fabio Aru.

At just 23, Aru is generating buzz among insiders in Italy with his climbing chops. He was second in the 2012 Baby Giro to Joe Dombrowski, and joined Astana midway through the season. Aru was second to Rory Sutherland up the Flagstaff climb in the 2012 USA Pro Challenge in Colorado.

This year, he rode alongside Nibali en route to the “Shark’s” overall victory at the Giro d’Italia, and then rode to eighth at the Tour of Austria.

“Aru is going to be a big rider,” Martinelli told VeloNews earlier this season. “He can continue to gain experience alongside Vincenzo, but he will get his chances. I could see him winning a Giro one day. He has the qualities to win a grand tour.”

With that glowing endorsement, it remains to be seen how Aru and the other young Italians will develop over the coming seasons. It looks assured that the tifosi will have one of their own to cheer for.

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